Centralized vs. Distributed Print Models in Enterprise Printing

In the global economy, it is increasingly common for companies to require enterprise printing across multiple geographic locations. When a company begins to research the available advanced print spooling solutions on the market, they will soon see that there were two distinct (if not polar) schools of thought regarding advanced spooling software implementation strategy.

The two strategies are either to use a single centralized print server or to install spooling software onto the various distributed application servers throughout the enterprise. Both of these approaches have advantages and disadvantages.

The Centralized Print Server Model

In the centralized print server model, the company would simply install the print management software on a single centrally located server accessible throughout the enterprise.

One advantage of a centralized print server is that it allows a single point of control and oversight of all enterprise print jobs and queues. This model can be easier since it is a single standard solution, requiring less administrator training and fewer printer definitions to maintain. Since this is a single standard solution rather than a solution that needs to be installed across multiple servers, it has the potential to save a company money through lower software license fees.

However, while this model offers the single point of control, a major disadvantage is that it offers a single point of failure. Not only does this imply enterprise-wide downtime in the event of the print server crashing or otherwise going offline, but there are also significant concerns around disaster recovery situations. In the event of a disaster at the centralized print location, enterprise print operations would be offline indefinitely until the location could recover or until a different server location could be selected to reinstall and re-implement the print solution.

This seems to be a significant enough limitation in its own right, but the centralized print server model also entails a loss of autonomy at the local print site level, wherein administrators do not have the ability to manage local queues and print jobs. Also, implementation of the central print spool solution requires multiple hops over the network, consuming precious bandwidth and increasing related latency of print times.

Distributed Print Server Model

The distributed print server model, on the other hand, is installed at multiple locations throughout the enterprise–either on the scale of multiple regional print servers all the way down to installation on every client workstation throughout the enterprise.

The benefits of this print server model is that print jobs and queues may be controlled locally, with less dependence on support from central IT and print administrators. Since print requests are made locally, the amount of print request traffic and bandwidth used on the central print server is exponentially reduced, resulting in improved performance and printer response time. Finally, the distributed print server model offers a degree of inherent redundancy since downtime at one location does not imply enterprise-wide termination of print processes.

However, the benefits of the distributed print server model are checked by the increased cost to the company. Multiple installations will mean multiple software license fees, which multiplies the cost of the initial installation along with increasing the cost of maintaining the software on the servers via license renewal fees. Increasing the number of separate installations will also increase the cost of training and maintaining IT staff proficiency in the software.

In the distributed print server model, you also lose the centralized control that makes the centralized model so appealing. You also have more printer definitions to maintain with the distributed model.

Decisions, Decisions

The advantages of these solutions appear to be largely mutually exclusive of each other. However, one can deduce the significant advantages a company would enjoy if they could implement a blended print management solution that would provide the benefits of central print servers (maintaining fewer printer definitions, the ability to print from any location in the enterprise to any enterprise printer, along with the lower license fees one would expect with central print management) alongside the benefits of distributed print server software (lower traffic and bandwidth requirements on a centralized server, higher print performance with minimal latency, and local print job and print queue control).

To implement a blended solution, a company can try to integrate two separate print management solutions–one centralized print management solution and one distributed solution. However, this could prove not only costly, but difficult to perform effectively in the desired functions.

Print management program packages do exist that offer hybrid functionality, however. This solution allows the customer to implement a truly distributed print environment while maintaining the advantages of a centralized installation. They have much fewer printer definitions to maintain, an enterprise view of job/queues, a single standard solution, less administrator training, and low license fees.

Among these multi-functional models is Plus Technologies’ OM Plus V2 software. In a hybrid output solution like that, the software is installed on a server in each center. Only the local queues are defined in each center (requiring minimal administration and upkeep). The software gives each server the ability to automatically “advertise” its queues to all the other servers on the network with the same software installed. In this way, all queues are available to all systems even though they are defined only once. The user interface of each installation allows users (with the appropriate security) to view all jobs and printers on the network from a single status screen. System administration privileges are set up to limit the functions performed locally vs. centrally, which provides administrators the centralized control one would normally only find in a central print server management program.

When a print job is spooled, the printer definition is looked for on the local server. If the printer is not found locally, then the software-enabled server searches the other software-enabled servers for the printer and delivers the print job accordingly. This functionality allows all printers to be available to all systems. All local jobs are printed locally ensuring efficient use of the network with low latency and high performance.

With this particular software, license fees are minimized since license pricing is based on number of queues defined on each server. Therefore, only small licenses are required locally. This means the number of queues and the associated price remained low. A print management tool like this provides a true distributed print management solution that eliminates redundant printer definitions across the enterprise, while allowing printing to both local and remote server’s printers.

Source by Bob Russell

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